Dreaming in pink: Kona 2013

It’s hard to write this race report because doing so acknowledges the end, and it’s sad to let go. What made Kona spectacular was my group of 14 pink friends, the opportunity to train and learn from Rachel, and the spirit of Kona itself. Pictures are worth a thousand words, and our thoughts are worth more. I’ll do my best to share both.

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Oahu club tough, one row above new champ Rinny!

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UPR 2013 forever. Mahalo Guaranteed Rate and Keawe Adventures. Still dreaming in pink.

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I began my day at the King Kam beach, swam around the pier as a warm-up and lined up far left of the buoys. Starting far left meant I swam longer, but had a perfect clean start, never got touched, and felt smooth and relaxed the whole way. Exited the water happily in 1:19 to cheers from Ryan, Lectie, Pomai, and Angela. Laughed with the change tent volunteers about my toe socks (I know, I know), skin-tight cooler shirt, gobs of sunscreen and multiple homemade musubis. If you were looking for a fast transition, these were not ideal choices (each 7+ minutes), but to me it was worth the extra time to start each part of the race as calm and comfortable as possible. And am happy to report no sunburn, blisters, or chafing!

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And then, we had the fastest ride to Hawi ever! All tailwind, no crosswinds. Near the gas station in Kawaihae James came FLYING by me, screaming LIVE LIKE DUDA! I cried, out of pride for James, and overcome with emotion over the race. Here we were, really doing it, and I was so grateful. Hit the halfway point faster than I expected in 2:45, still feeling comfortable and relaxed. Stopped in special needs to re-apply sunscreen and grab more nutrition. Light winds made for a voggy and hot day on the bike, so I was doing everything I could to stay cool and protected. Grabbed at least 2 waters every aid station, one in the cage, one squirted all over head and body. I chose not to wear an aerohelmet to stay as cool as possible, and was happy with that decision.

The descent from Hawi was fast and fun. Around Kawaihae I got a wicked headache, the kind that hurts when you touch your forehead. I was very hydrated, so maybe the heat, or vog, or effort, or everything. I concentrated on staying relaxed and cool, and tried to get back to the pier as quickly as possible using the least amount of effort. It’s a tricky tradeoff! I had done this entire ride in training 5 weeks before, and remembered how I felt after pushing pretty hard all the way home. I erred on the conservative side, staying within my comfort zone and breathing easy. In hindsight I probably could have pushed a bit harder here, but made the call to play it safe. In hindsight I’m also pretty sure that I thought I had a lot more time in the bank than I actually did :) That stretch from Waikoloa home is eerily quiet, amazingly hot, and mentally very challenging. Unfortunately, I think I lost focus for a good stretch between miles 90-100-ish. I stopped looking at my watch or the mile markers, put my head down, and focused on my breath and staying calm. Snapped out of it when I heard screams and cheers from my Waimea girls OD and Nohealani, then Jules right as I arrived back to town. My bike time was a bit slower than I hoped (6:27), but I stayed positive and was optimistic about having a great run. In T2, more sunscreen, new toe socks (!!), new shorts, shoes, and visor and I was excited to run.

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The first 8-ish miles of the run I was absolutely positive I could run 9min pace ALL DAY LONG! Legs and lungs felt great, I left my headache on my bike in T2, and the energy from the turquoise bocas, try fitness gals and other oahu friends on Kuakini and Alii was electric! I felt smooth and strong as I passed Hines (YES!), all the way to the turn-around at St. Peter’s. Michelle and Roberto rode by cheering, Sam screamed at me from a pick-up truck, and everything in the world was awesome.

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Awesome would not last :) After the turn-around my stomach grumbled. No panic, this happened once at IMCdA, in and out of the beach park potty and I should be good to go. I was in, I was out, I was not good to go. I stayed positive, kept up the fueling and hydration plan as best I could, and focused on getting to my bocas on Palani. Made the right turn up, saw the happiest sea of blue friends ever, smiled and ran (jogged) up the hill. I remember Ryan saying “that’s the way,” and Felipe saying “think good thoughts,” and I knew it was about to get real :) The next several miles were some of the hardest of the day. My stomach was angry and forced me to stop a lot, and twice I almost didn’t make it between porta potties. Cold sweats are an overwhelmingly bad feeling when you are hot, trying to move forward, and concerned about having a terribly embarrassing accident right there on the highway. Somewhere around mile 13 Aaron found me on his bike, and asked if I was eating and drinking. I remember whispering a quiet “yes.” But the truth was it had been a while. I was afraid to take anything in, as it was going right through me. Michelle came back by on her bike and I must have looked as bad as I felt. She yelled in a very commanding and all-caps tone “THIS IS THE PART WHERE YOU SMILE BECAUSE YOU ARE DOING THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS.” She was right, and I needed to get it together. I had tried a lot of things along the way, but not everything. I stopped eating meat when I was an 18 year old environmental studies student working at a health food store in New Orleans. And at mile 14 of the Kona Ironman, I threw idealism to the wind and slammed my first cup of chicken broth in almost 20 years. It was warm, salty, and quite possibly the best decision I made all day. Within 10 minutes my stomach settled and I got my first “burst” (these things are relative) of energy since the happy bocas on Palani.

From there, it was a few more stops, and broth at the next several aid stations. Stopping was difficult. I was uncomfortable, the porta potties at this point were the stuff nightmares are made of, and it was hard to get a good rhythm going from a stand-still. Running into the energy lab, the sun was setting and the scene was surreal. I felt remarkably serene, probably delirium, but possibly relief because my stomach had finally settled. Looking back, I wish I could have found more focus in the energy lab. When it’s dark and things hurt, you’ve really got to want it. I think with more focus and a stronger commitment to a time goal I could have gotten in and out of this place faster, both literally and in my head. Conservative was the play of the day. No regrets, just acknowledgement of decisions made in the moment, and lessons learned. I don’t think I could truly understand this feeling without experiencing it. Now I know. And next time, I will dig deeper.

I did eventually emerge from the energy lab :) At this point it was pitch black dark except for the fluorescent bobbing glow-sticks running by. A volunteer handed me a glow-stick, I accidentally dropped it, and there was simply no way I was bending all that way over to get it. And just when I was really starting to lose hope and despite my darkness, they found me. Raul, Felipe, Aaron, and Lectie were suddenly surrounding me, encouraging, loving, supporting. I was so happy to see them, jogging a little too easy and asking about Mariane’s day, Amy’s day, asking how they felt, and reminding them to go for Eddie right behind me. Raul suddenly seemed super annoyed. “You know what Kim? If you can talk like this, you can run faster.” I shut up and picked up the pace. And when I tried to walk through the aid stations to enjoy my newfound love of all things chicken, Raul in his most authoritative voice directed me to run, not walk through. “Do you know it’s not even 7pm yet? Do you even know where you are or how far you have to go? Keep track of your pace, do not lose focus.” It was exactly the tough love I needed. Aaron promised one more light, one more hill. There were actually two lights, and two and a half hills, but it didn’t matter because I was within a couple miles of the best finish line in the world, so finally bid them goodbye, took a moment to acknowledge the privilege of racing here, Duda, my Grandma, my 14 pink friends, and my own efforts to get here, and started running as fast as I could down Palani, Kuakini, Hualalai, and finally, Alii Drive.

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I remember my heart beating loudly as I ran through the finish chute. I remember thinking how grateful I was to Raul and my friends who found me after the energy lab for getting me moving. I wanted to come closer to 12 hours, but had promised my Mom, Deborah, Joy G, and others I knew would be watching that I would be done by 7:30pm. I saw the clock in the late 12:20’s, smiled and wondered if it was even possible to get through this race alone.

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With Team Bugajohnson almost immediately after finishing. At this point, Eddie’s not sure what he thinks of standing that close to me.

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Sunday was spent recovering at 69’s with Nohea and my giant cookie medal (thank you Bonnie!). I wish I could say I shellacked that beautiful cookie and will keep it forever, or that I shared it, but I can’t.

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My pink friends were wildly successful. Lori settled a longtime score by finishing super strong; Kathryn, Mariane, Amy, and many others had breakthrough races; James finished 3rd in his division in the universe; and we were all done and hugging by 10pm that night. Monday we swam together, said goodbye, and gave thanks for the gift that was Kona. I do hope to one day return to this race, with more experience, and more mental strength. Until then I will be cherishing these memories, and dreaming in pink.

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In tutu’s I trust

Last weekend I traveled to Kona for a weekend of training with Team Duda/ boca /tutu’s /LOL (Lucky Oahu Lottery)/whoever. 10 of us stayed at tutu’s beach house, 4 miles south of the pier, a block off Alii Drive, a few decades behind in interior design, and worlds away from reality. Tutu’s was rustic: hulagirl lamps with tassels, retro wallpaper, and the occasional baby scorpion (cute!) and centipede, all of which added to the ambiance. There were bodies, bikes, bugs, and bonding everywhere. Amy and Eddie shacked up at the 5-star Kona Seaside, officially to scope out their race accommodations, but probably out of a healthy fear of tutu’s (can you imagine?) All together we were 10 Kona athletes, and two of the most incredibly selfless friends and athletes you’ll ever meet, Tammy and Felipe Rael, to coach, guide, sherpa, and generally keep us in line (good luck!) Each day brought laughs, and lessons for October. Here’s the play-by-play.

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Day 1: Bike the course! Pier to Hawi and back, go!

Ummmm, OMG. Having done Honu three times, I knew the bike ride would be hot, windy, and hilly. I knew the middle of the course well, and how to ride the rollers to Hawi. I was mentally prepared for a difficult bike ride, and the reality of that bike course hit pretty hard just where people said it would: between Waikoloa and the airport. Climbing steadily up each seemingly endless incline, I would think to myself: the airport must be after THIS hill. No? Okay, THIS ONE! Nope. this one?? (whimpering) This went on for a while, and eventually those tiny dots of palm trees that line the airport showed up, but by then I was truly starting to panic. I was really hot, and felt the wind had really taken a toll. My legs were fine, I was just tiiiiired. All those doubts started creeping into my mind, how do people do this, how could I possibly run now, am I going to die out here?!… you know the feeling. The saving grace that day were Tammy and Felipe, who were out in the blazing sun with ice, grapes, cookies, ice, coke, rock stars, did I mention ice, and endless amounts of encouragement, every 10-20 miles. I got off my bike at the pier, Felipe took it away, and told me to run home. I feared I would melt, or collapse, or worse, but ate a gel and miraculously (!) made it home (nothing like a little drama, followed by an amazing dose of perspective), after probably the hardest and most valuable training day yet.

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Day 1 Lessons: Pacing and nutrition are key. I rode a relaxed pace to Hawi, eating and drinking the entire way. I’ve never come down that hill faster, felt amazing through the Kawaihae section, then got super hungry, cranky, thirsty, and was pretty sure the world was ending around scenic point (“what’s so freaking scenic about this?!”). KEEP EATING!

Day 2: Moderate swim, moderate run, sunset ride. Oh, and an UPR dress rehearsal at the pier, because some things are too important not to practice.

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Once I recovered from the ride and realized that I would in fact NOT die on my bike on October 12, everything felt easier! Perspective has to be my favorite part of ironman training. We started day 2 with a swim on the course. Mmmmm okay, no, we didn’t. We started the day by putting on our team swimwear, generously sponsored by friends and fellow athletes William Doom of Guaranteed Rate and Makani Christensen of Keawe Adventures. If you are looking to refinance or buy a home in Hawaii, Doom is efficient, smart, and will find you the best deal. Everything’s done online, and he returns calls, questions, and emails at warp speed, because we are all too busy for anything else. And if you want to surf, fish, hike, or do anything outside, there is absolutely no way anyone could be more entertaining, personable, or hilarious than Makani. Check these guys out. They are super nice people who happen to be incredibly good at what they do.

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Once we had properly broken in the suits and mentally prepared ourselves for the UPR, we jumped in and swam to the 1.2 mile turnaround buoy and back. Crystal clear, fun, fast, with no complaints (we would save all of those for the WRWS on Monday…but at least we got a hammerhead?!) After the swim, Team Rael lathered us up with sunscreen (shout out to Planet Sun….wore it all weekend and did not get burnt after hours and hours (and hours) in the intense kona sunshine, thanks John!), loaded the trucks up with ice and more goodies, and sent us out for a run down to the south end of the marathon route, where we turn around before heading back up Palani and onto the Queen K. Team LOL was high energy, and all smiles. Capped off the day with a breathtakingly beautiful sunset spin, a home-cooked feast at tutu’s directed by top-chef Jodie and sous chefs Tammy and Joy, and sweet dreams of a long run towards the greatest finish line in the world.

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Day 2 Lessons: There could be a slight current coming back from the turnaround buoy/boat, save something for it. Stay close to buoy line, since the current seemed to be pulling right, towards the rocks. And when running in kona, never put down your water bottle, and always say yes, please, to more ice.

Day 3: 20 mile run from the pier to the energy lab and back through town along the finish route, followed by an hour spin.

As we prepared for the last workout of the weekend, we were already getting sentimental, wishing it would never end. We were blessed with perfect conditions, perfect support, and perfectly positive energy. We spun on our bikes to the start, and began the run up Palani Road. It’s a steep hill, but one I can hardly wait for, since that’s where the crazy screaming Boca crew camps out. I may not be moving fast at that point, but there’s no way I won’t be smiling.

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After Palani, we took a left on the Queen K, and everybody settled into their rhythms. In a blink Mariane was gone, and Amy, Rose, Jerry, and Eddie were trotting along with seemingly effortless ease, and I stayed close behind, running within myself, focusing on staying calm and cool. Joy and Gwen were pushing each other to what would become a fantastic run for both of them. Speaking of staying cool, I highly recommend DeSoto’s Skincooler shirt, complete with three ice pockets along the back and a magical way of sending chills down your spine with a shot of cool water, even in 90+ kona heat. The chill is temporary, but brought me a jolt of energy every time. Such a refreshing little break! The group was mostly doing 18 miles, but Rachel suggested I try 20 since I had support, company, and a pretty sweet running venue. Decided on repeating the bottom of the energy lab twice for the extra mileage, and was so glad I did. The first go was overcast, serene, and beautiful, with friends, the second a hot fiery lonely furnace, all within the span of 30-ish minutes. It was good to feel the difference, and notice how quickly conditions can change. After the energy lab we finished along the exact marathon course, right on Palani, left on Kuakini, right on Hualalai. And even though it was a training run, and I was alone coming down Hualalai, I still managed to get totally choked up at the thought of running to that finish line, in less than 6 weeks.

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My personal experiences in Kona, especially on the bike, gave me important strategies for the race. Probably more important were the lessons learned by observing my friends. Despite the overflowing giddiness that permeated tutu’s, there were more than a couple of hiccups along the way. Day 1 Eddie hit a lavarock going fast on his bike, crashed and left pieces of his hip and back on the Queen K. If you didn’t see the blood, you’d never know it happened. He didn’t dwell on it (he barely even mentioned it), got up and kept on keeping on with a huge grin, the entire weekend. Mariane was absolutely coughing her brains out from day 1 to day 3, recovering from a week long cold. She knew she was not 100%, but kept swim-bike-running (and coughing) the whole weekend, with her bright smile. Jodie made the tough call to stop running within a few miles on day 3’s long run, since her back was still acting up from that stupid feline in waimanalo. She joined Tammy’s roaming aid station, and cheered, fueled, and iced us the entire 20 miles. The overwhelming lesson I took away from the weekend: it’s all about attitude. In a race where the mind rules the day, I have learned to trust in myself, and in the 11 other athletes who help me believe. We got this :)

Olo-Mania

Five Reflections on Olomana 2011 

1. The Garmin Forerunner 310XT’s multisport function has a limit of 10 events. By my count, we did:

Bike 
Run
Bike 
Run
Bike 
Run
Bike 
Run
Bike 
Run
Bike, 

which makes 11 events. Garmin does not know Boca Hawaii.

2. Recovery e21 has a delightfully non-offensive (I’d describe it as…organic) taste. This non-offensiveness fades as time in mouth without swallowing increases. I’m all for multi-tasking with nutrition on the bike, but if you’re not confident about reaching behind your saddle for your water bottle until you get to the bottom of that big fast hill, don’t pop it at the top.

3. Pain should be put in perspective. Every time my mind started wandering into it’s-hot-this-hurts-land, another fresh-home-from IM South Africa athlete would zip by on one of the endless (okay, 5) bike/run loops. Suck it up, sister. 

4. After seeing Wil Yamamoto (one of those infamous IMSA troopers) go by for the third or fourth time I think I finally figured it out: he’s my Grandma’s brother’s son’s son. So Mom’s uncle’s grandson. Quite possibly my third cousin? All I know is by the last loop I was convinced that we were practically siblings and clearly I could still inherit his gifted athleticism. Pretty please?

5. Olo-mania takes a lot of coordination. Next time you see a Boca coach, thank them!

Next week: Kona or bust!

Lessons from the Mountain

It’s been a few days since I joined the Boca crew on their Ride to the Sun (um, what sun?), a bike ride from the Maui Seaside Hotel (seaside as in sea level, aka 0 ft) to the summit of the majestic Haleakala, towering 10,023 ft. over the island of Maui. Needed a little while to come down from the post-climb buzz and fully process the experience. Raul claims it’s the steepest bike ride in the world, rising over 10,000 feet in only 30-something miles. A monster climb to say the least, even on a perfect day. For better or worse (what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?), Sunday was not that perfect day. Friday and Saturday I watched anxiously as the big green blob on my iPhone’s weather radar app moved towards Maui, over Maui, then directly beat down on our mountain. Miraculously, we woke Sunday morning to a sky full of stars and a clear view of the top of Haleakala, rare even in the best weather. We rolled out of the Seaside feeling optimistic, excited, and ready to tackle our challenge. I mean, what could go wrong on a day like this?

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Pretty early into the climb, we noticed the winds picking up. I’d say we were only at about 2,500-3,000 feet when the giant cloud we were all ignoring to the north started to move directly overhead. Then a gentle sprinkle. The higher we went, the darker and less gentle the sprinkle. Soon enough it was a full blown storm, freezing cold and pouring rain. The rest of the climb was full-on guts and glory. At the visitor center at 7,000 ft. there were rumors of park rangers not letting us go to the summit, and there were several quiet mentions of hypothermia from the staring tourists (in cars, and seriously confused as to what we were attempting). When our (awesome) support van arrived, we changed clothes, put on more layers, and kept climbing. After about 8,000 ft. I lost all feeling in my hands and everything below my knees, especially my feet. Thank goodness for quads and the pedaling upstroke. I just kept telling myself to yank my leg up, since I couldn’t feel the downstroke. That’s Raul below (it’s not your eyes or a blurry picture. It was really that bad).

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But we made it. This shot was taken as soon as we reached the top. Thanks to Katy for helping me get there and for all the prep and pep talks that came before the climb. And for holding me up in this picture.

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I learned a lot from the mountain that day. Camaraderie; acceptance (yes I really am in my easiest gear, same one as the last 4 hours); how to open a frozen GU with 1 numb hand and my teeth; patience; that e21 really is a miracle supplement; an efficient upstroke; even faith. But most of all, I came down from that summit with a new sense of confidence on the bike. Pre-Haleakala I had nightmares about riding in the rain, riding alone, riding in a group, riding too fast, riding in town, riding in the country, riding up Tantalus, riding down Tantalus, about riding in general. Post-Haleakala? Bring it ON.

Mahalo plenty to our amazing support crew, to the Boca coaches for preparing us for this journey, to e21 for powering me up the mountain, and to Stacia for the photos.

Mind the Gap

Riding thru Kalaeloa on this beautiful Saturday morning gave me new perspective on this friendly British subway reminder. If only I had received a similar suggestion before rolling out to do a dizzying number of laps around the regional park with the speedy Boca paceline. Everything seemed to be going fine for the first few/five/I lost count laps. It is amazing how quickly a smooth steady paceline ride turns into a panicked frenzy to catch up. I think it went something like this: someone in the front (coach Billy? fess up) picked up the pace. The next couple riders hung on. The person two in front of me did not pick up. Being the savvy rider that she is, Joy passed him. Being the naive rider that I am, I let them go, thinking, I don’t want to pass this guy (why, I now wonder?), and anyway, the gap is small enough so I’ll catch them at the next turn. As if. After all, this was cornering-drill-day, why on earth would they slow down at a stop sign? Needless to say, the gap got wider and wider, Kim the lonely rider worked harder and harder, and soon could barely make out the group waaay out in front. When they (finally) stopped, I made two verbal commitments: no more pass-hesitation, and next time, mind the gap. 

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